More Americans than ever on record – 115.6 million – will travel this holiday season, from Sunday, December 21 through Wednesday, January 1, according to AAA’s annual forecast. That is the most in nearly 20 years since AAA began tracking in 2000, and represents an increase of 3.9 percent over last year, or 4.3 million more people packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway. More than 104 million of those holiday travelers will drive to their destinations and INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects delays to be the worst on Thursday, December 26, with afternoon delays reaching nearly double congestion-free drive times in major U.S. cities.
“Holiday cheer is at an all-time high this year, with unemployment at historically low levels, and noted improvements in both disposable income and household net worth,” said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel, in a written statement. “Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays.”
More Americans than ever on record will drive this holiday season:
- Automobiles: 104.8 million Americans, the most on record, will drive to their holiday destinations. That means 3.9 million more people are expected on the roads compared with last year, for an increase of 3.9 percent.
- Planes: With 4.9 percent growth, air travel will see the biggest increase in travel volume during the year-end holidays, with 6.97 million Americans expected to fly – the most since 2003.
- Trains, Buses and Cruise Ships: Travel by these other modes will reach 3.81 million, 3 percent more than last year.
For the 104.8 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts only marginal delays throughout the holiday week. Nationally, drivers could experience double the travel times on Thursday and Friday afternoon, although New York City and Washington, D.C., could see triple the delays.
For air travel, a recent analysis of AAA’s flight booking data showed that most travelers depart two to four days prior to the Christmas holiday, December 21-23, with December 22 being the single busiest air travel day of the holiday week. These travelers, on average, pay ticket prices between $593 and $639. Christmas Eve is the best day to travel, with the lowest average price per ticket ($527) and the fewest crowds of the holiday week. Many travelers opt to fly after the Christmas holiday leading up to New Year’s, and they pay a premium to do so. December 26 has the highest average ticket price of the week at $692.
Travelers will need to budget more for car rentals this holiday season. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the daily average rental rate this Christmas and New Year’s will reach $84, 11 percent more than last year and the highest price in 10 years. AAA Three Diamond hotel prices have increased 1 percent to $153, while AAA Two Diamond hotels will average $119, 2 percent less than last year.
Theme parks in Orlando and southern California, other warm-weather locales, and New York City top the list of 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for the year-end holidays, based on advance AAA Travel bookings.
- Orlando, FL
- Anaheim, CA
- Honolulu, HI
- Kahului, Maui, HI
- Las Vegas, NV
- Ft. Lauderdale, FL
- New York, NY
- Miami, FL
- Tampa, FL
- Phoenix, AZ
Many travelers are also seeking warm weather and sandy beaches in Mexico and the Caribbean this holiday season. Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Los Cabos, Mexico; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, are AAA’s top five international destinations for the year-end holidays.